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Finding Solutions To Facebook’s “Fake News” Controversy

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I am writing to you regarding Facebook’s “fake news” controversy over the 2016 presidential election. This unfortunate news has taken an enormous toll on the company and it is best we address this conflict as soon as possible before the situation escalates even further. As you know, the public has been retaliating after Facebook was accused of providing “fake news” on the Trending News Feed and has many concerns regarding their data privacy and security. To alleviate these concerns from the public, we must stop sharing users’ information to third-parties, allow all news to show up on each users’ feed and fully disclose our cybersecurity practices.

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Our first step is to stop sharing our user data with third-parties. When a user signs up with Facebook, the user is required to share their name, gender, date of birth, and email or phone number. From there, Facebook has the ability to track the ads the user clicks on, personal information, IP address, friends, and activity. Today, Facebook automatically shares a person’s name, profile photo, cover photo, gender, networks, emails, Facebook ID, likes, comments, posts, videos, etc. with third-party apps, without any review process. Most of these pieces of information are unnecessary for third party applications and it would be adequate to only share their email with them. When users allow third-party applications to use their data, these applications gain tens of millions of consumers. After users agree to share their friend’s data, this exploded to more than 50 million users. This multiplier effect is massive and further supports why this limit on data sharing is crucial for Facebook’s data security. This restriction on data for third-parties will greatly decrease the risk of third-parties abusing information and target people who are more vulnerable to fake news and propaganda. As a result, we can not only gain back our users’ trust but also make them realize that their information is safe with us.

We should allow all news to show up on every users’ news feed. During the 2016 presidential election, the main concern was the fact that Facebook incorporated an algorithm that customized each users’ news to the user based on previous reading behaviors and those of their close friends. This resulted in polarized opinion, extreme prejudices and bitter partisan character during the election. Some even claim that the fake news, spread through News Feed, supported the rise of anti-establishment sentiments among groups that felt left behind by the establishment. However, if we removed the algorithm and allowed each user to be exposed to all perspectives and viewpoints, we remove the extremeness from the news. Every user has the ability to learn the news from every side and make their own interpretation from it. We would not need to use user information or their personal data to cater the news to them and as a result, this would allow the users to feel safer to know that their personal data is not being used. Facebook is not a traditional media company but we should still take full responsibility by providing the most accurate news to our users and allowing them to decide which news they want to read.

Facebook should disclose their cybersecurity practices to appease government regulators. The first step is to fully comply the Honest Ads Act which would require us to disclose which groups are running political advertisements and make reasonable efforts to ensure foreign governments and agents aren’t purchasing ads on their platforms. Specifically, regarding the 2016 presidential election, this would satisfy current and future politicians during upcoming elections because they would not be worried about Facebook affecting elections with algorithms. However, traditional media view Facebook as having mixed views about this act. Facebook’s lobbying efforts has skyrocketed by nearly 12 million since 2009 and during the last quarter of 2017, Facebook spent nearly $3. 1 million lobbying Congress and other US federal government agencies in issues including the Honest Ads Act. By being fully backing this act and halting the lobbying, we can show to the world how we are changing as a company and we are taking this issue seriously. By being completely transparent on our advertisements and depicting that we are not using user data anymore, we can also prevent the 2016 presidential election controversy from occurring again. Politicians will not use our platform to impact elections nor to stay in power.

These three steps are only the beginning and there is no easy fix to this problem. Data is already out there, the 2016 presidential election is over, and our users’ trust has been breached. The only thing we can control from here is how we react and respond to this problem. Over the long term, we need to make continuous radical changes to our business and privacy model. We must recognize that our responsibility is not merely to connect people or “bring the world together” but also make sure that our customer’s data are secured and safe with us.

01 April 2020

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